Last April, we had a winged visitor on our deck. The hummingbird’s trips to the sugar water had become more frequent. Peeking out from behind the patio’s glass doors, my husband and I followed her flight from the feeder. She landed right before our eyes, in an upturned fork of the overhanging bougainvillea. Her cup-shaped nest was made of thin twigs and speckled with bits of pale green. Inside, two eggs like alabaster were shaded by the pink bloom of the bougainvillea.
“Best not get too attached,” my husband warned.
“This can’t end well,” I said. “That branch is only four feet above the ground.”
I’d read online that most nests failed but I didn’t care. The deck would now be hers alone. Schools had closed, groceries were scarce, and I was up half the night reading sad news. I needed a silver lining. I hoped the hummingbird mother would give me one.
Every morning, I followed the same ritual. I slowly raised the shades half-way and stared at her longingly, like a greedy voyeur. Cocking her cream-colored head to the side, she would meet my gaze without fear. I imagined then that we were acknowledging each other’s role in our shrunken universe. There I was, always at home, making sure our daughters attended online school in the mornings, and motivating them for walks in the evenings. She, on the other hand, was the mother in constant movement, hovering around her nest, occasionally returning from her many trips with bits of loose string and spider’s web.
One morning, when she was away, my husband stepped outside and held his phone over the nest. We watched the video, giddy with excitement. After a close-up of its fuzzy rim, the camera settled on two blobs of what looked like black putty. Each mass was squeezed tight against the other, but neither moved.
“They look dead,” my husband said.
“You think she’d be sitting on a pair of dead babies? Let’s play the video again,” I said.
I took another look and saw a rise and fall on the back of one mass. Immediately, it was followed by another.
“They’re breathing!” I said.
We googled the life cycle of the hummingbird and read: she will brood her nestlings for almost ten days in order to regulate their body temperature.
I had a hummingbird family, all of my own.
A week later, the weather changed. That morning I watched as the rain drenched the nest. The swaying bougainvillea branch was giving the nestlings a bumpy ride. Normally, when the mother was away, all I would see was a pair of orange bills openly raised to the sky, waiting to be fed. I now saw the tops of their fuzzy heads as they bounced from side to side in the wind. They look so helpless, I thought.
After the day’s homeschooling was turned in and the lunch dishes were cleared, I once again remembered the nestlings. As I neared the glass doors, my heart sank. The winds had calmed and the rain had stopped but there was no nest on the branch. Nothing except the bottom layer of the cup. I scanned the patio’s perimeters, looking for signs of struggle, for bits of feathers or blood on the ground. All I saw were layers of pink.
With a flashlight in hand, I searched below the deck’s beams. I lifted the branches of the nearby hedge and combed through mounds of dead leaves. I am ridiculous, I thought. There were hundreds of people now dying every day. Here I was, crying as I crawled on my knees. I was mourning a nest.
I looked up as I heard the familiar hum. She had been gone for a while. Her bill would be heavy with the insect slurry. But there would be no one to feed today. She made sharp chirping sounds as she circled around what was left of the cup. Twice more she came back, chirping each time. Then she flew off over the hedge.
A few days later, we gave the deck a good sweep. We wiped the table and dusted the chairs. As I looked up to where the nest had been, I heard her again. There was no chirping this time, just the usual flutter of her wings as she settled herself on the feeder. It’s time to replace the sugar water, I thought.
Thamar Keshishian is an Austrian-Armenian writer based in Los Angeles. She received her Bachelor’s degree from the American University of Beirut in Lebanon, where she hopelessly tried to master Arabic but discovered baklava pastries instead. After obtaining her Master’s degree at Johns Hopkins University in International Relations, she whiled away several years as a gray-suited researcher at international organizations in Washington and Paris. Along with her husband and three daughters she is now a temporary resident of Oberndorf, a small town in Austria whose claim to fame is being the birth place of the Silent night Christmas carol.
Featured artwork: After Needlepoint Holly Day has been a writing instructor at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis since 2000. Her poetry has recently appeared in Hubbub, Grain, and Third Wednesday, and her newest books are The Tooth is the Largest Organ in the Human Body (Anaphora Literary Press), Book of Beasts (Weasel Press), Bound in Ice (Shanti Arts), and Music Composition for Dummies (Wiley).